Khosta-2: COVID-linked virus in Russian horseshoe bats found to be transmissible to human cells

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A virus in bats in Russia has been found to bind to human cells, in a discovery being monitored by public health experts who have been hypervigilant about zoonotic diseases since the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a further finding in the research published in peer-reviewed medical journal PLOS Pathogens, the Khosta-2 virus appears to be resistant to COVID-19 vaccines and antibodies.

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However, there is no certainty the virus causes actual illness in humans, an expert says.

The research has been conducted by a global group of immunologists who looked at two sarbecoviruses found in horseshoe bats in Russia.

Sarbecoviruses are respiratory viruses. They are of the same family but have different “viral lineage” to SARS-CoV-1 and 2, the latter of which causes COVID-19, according to the researchers.

There have been hundreds of sarbecoviruses discovered, predominantly in bats, but most are unable to infect humans.

But the researchers found the Khosta-2 virus interacts with the same human cell entry receptor as does SARS-CoV-2.

Researchers studied two sarbecoviruses found in horseshoe bats in Russia. File image. Credit: De Agostini via Getty Images

“We tested how well the spike proteins from these bat viruses infect human cells under different conditions,” the research paper says.

“We found that the spike from virus, Khosta-2, could infect cells similar to human pathogens using the same entry mechanisms, but was resistant to neutralisation by serum from individuals who had been vaccinated for SARS-CoV-2.”

University of Queensland infectious diseases expert Paul Griffin said the discovery has been made amid increased “surveillance” of zoonotic (animal to human) diseases since COVID-19 spread across the world.

He says it shows just because Khosta-2 has the ability to bind to human cell receptors, it would not necessarily infect humans.

‘Concerning element’

“There are a lot of different things that need to happen for a virus to be able to spill over from animal species into humans,” Griffin told 7NEWS.com.au.

“It’s not just that binding ability. It then needs to cause disease for it to be something that’s significant.

“It also needs to be readily transmissible as well.

“What it does show is it’s got some of the makings of being able to cause infection in humans and the concerning element is when these viruses may be mixed together and create a recombinant virus that might combine some of those other properties and might have the potential to cause disease.”

Changing planet

Griffin said the immunology research is ramping up amid environmental changes such as climate change, deforestation and urban expansion, which means animals and humans are living in closer proximity.

“We are seeing a big change with what’s happening with these so-called zoonotic infections as we do change the environment around us and make the potential for interaction greater,” he said.

He and the research team have called for more research into Khosta-2.

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